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Nihon Ishigame 5 Years Later Part III: The P-squares!
by Jeff Fullerton

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise

Dateline: Tuesday 4/2019

They made it.

The two Guerrero Wood Turtles—Rhinoclemmys pulcherrima pulcherrima from Rodriguez Chelonians delivered to my door by Fed Ex overnight express at 10 AM on the dot. Probably the only good thing about the day because I was seriously under the weather from a stomach bug most likely caught at work.

Just from glimpses of parts of them showing through the sphagnum moss in the deli containers they came in told me they were every bit as gorgeous as the one I got from Glades twenty some years ago. Also—both were labeled as “females” so my guess was they were temperature sexed in the incubator. That was kind of what I was hoping for as it puts me further along toward my goal of building a breeding colony of my own. And makes me glad now I decided to get the second individual rather than just one like I had years before.

Wanted to get them out and take more pictures but I was not feeling up to it and didn't want to take a chance of giving whatever I got to them. Not likely but can’t afford to mess around with these babies—they are more or less my second chance at a once in a lifetime opportunity.

I put the turts back in their box so the heat pack would keep them warm until I was feeling better and could get up the energy to deal with them. That didn't happen until a few hours later around the time I read the response from Amber Rodriguez to my response to her message checking up on the status of the box and its contents shortly after it arrived.

And she sent a picture that I'll elaborate more on shortly that might be a real game changer and definitely an inspiration for me. But my new charges first.

After letting the tub and all its furnishings air dry a couple hours while I rested—I rinsed them off again to get rid of any bleach residue that might linger even after a rinse after the overnight soak and another soak in fresh water I put in before I left in the morning. Then I was ready to get them out of the plastic deli containers they came in.

This is Female #1.
Hatched 7/21/18.

I'm going by the hatch dates on the containers to start off on a good foot at keeping records like I used to do in the early days. She (if the temperature predicted gender is correct) was the biggest of the two I selected in the photo on Fauna which was taken a while ago as both are now almost the same in size and weight—34 grams. This one is also easy to distinguish by the fainter duplicates of the classic pleural dots on some of the scutes that are hallmark of this subspecies.

I also did plastral shots which are probably the best way to identify individual turtles. Worked well with North American Woods also. This one has distinct black horseshoe marks on the ventral edge of the bridge on both sides.

Female #2.
Hatched 8/24/18

Never before have I had such wonderful biographic and biometric info to establish a pedigree! Which ought to be done for critters this rare and even the ones that will likely become rare in the future. Don't want to become a Compulsive Location Obsession Disorder or CLOD) in the carnivorous plant hobby that describes people who obsess over collecting an example from every named location of a particular species of pitcher plant—but some measure of professionalism is good for keeping track of things. I wish I had kept better records and taken more photos through the years with hard copy backup. So much info lost that could be useful today.

This is the ventral aspect of #2.

Note that instead of the horseshoe marks that were on #1; there are black dots instead. And there are other distinguishing features and asymmetrical pattern variations. Plastral markings are probably as good a means for identifying individual turtles as human fingerprints—though Chinese Box Turtles which have mostly uniform solid black plastrons are a bit tricky.

Another aspect of the ventral pattern of these turtles which is the same in all four subspecies of Rhinoclemmys pulcherrima is the red and black banding on the underside of the marginals that one researcher doing field studies on the more commonly known subspecies—R.p. manni—in Costa Rica which I referenced in my article published in Reptile & Amphibian Magazine in 1997; suggests this could be a form of mimicry that imitates the pattern of a coral snake. So if a bird or mammalian predator flips one over and sees this—it might have second thoughts about trying to have one of these little fellows for lunch!

I miscalculated on my choice of tub as the new turts are a bit bigger than expected. I have an old cement mixing tray that belonged to the CBTs when they started out which can be cleaned once I get to feeling better. I stated my first Guerrero Wood and the Rhinoclemmys areolata in one of those so it might be a good long term setup until they get bigger and I get the table setup and the Florida Room established and safe for occupation.

Now for the icing on the cake.

Amber sent me a picture of their “hold back male” and it was absolutely mind blowing to say the least!

Unfortunately there is a matter of proprietary ownership—I should ask permission to use the image and it will probably be too late to meet the deadline if I ask now as I put the article together on a Saturday morning with springtime sunshine and many other things beckoning! So I will do my best to describe it. It has a lot of orange tint on its carapace in addition to the red pleural dots that are hallmark of this subspecies. And bizarre black tracings around areas of a deeper red tint. I'm not sure what to make of it.

A high color mutant like a Blaze Phase Apalachicola or Brooks Kingsnake? Or some kind of hybrid or intergrade with another subspecies? More and more I'm thinking this looks like something I might expect to get if I crossed a Guerrero with the Central American subspecies R.p. manni. That's this one:

A couple baby manni from last summer at the Pittsburgh Reptile Show. This is the most common in the trade often referred to as the “Ornate Wood Turtle”. Some—probably ones sourced from northern Nicaragua where they intergrade with the Honduran subspecies—incisa are kind of ugly but these two were real screamers.

Would really be nice to get something like the “High Orange” specimen that the Rodriguezs' got from their colony. Or even the pink tinted one marked SOLD on the picture with mine in the Fauna Classifieds. But I'll be happy to just get an ordinary looking male in the near future to go with these young ladies and maybe get something exotic out of my incubator someday. The Rodriguezs' do use temperature to manipulate gender probability and set their incubators at the magic 30c/86 F for the brood my two came out of. That's the standard for producing predominantly female offspring in most Emydid turtles including the subfamily Geoemydidae that includes both the Asian ones and Neotropical Woods. Pretty much everyone from all the Asian species—Chinese Boxies, Japanese Pond Turtles etc, as well as the other subfamily: Emydidae: the monotypic European Pond Turtle, North American sliders, painted, box, spotted and just about all our familiar aquatic turtles and terrapins produce females at higher temps and males at the lower end of the range. Amber says they are going to attempt to do a run of males next time around. Which is a good thing because most breeders are in a hurry to produce and run their incubators warmer and a scarcity of male offspring in some captive populations is often the result. Especially a problem with really rare species like Cuora trifasciata—the Golden Coin or “quack cancer cure turtle” in China that goes for four grand a pop!

And so this is the conclusion of the 5 year update of the Nihon Ishigame series stated in 2014 when I switched to exotic turtle species to avoid legal issues assisted with the ones native to my state. Namely the Big 3: The North American Wood, Eastern Box and Spotted Turtles. Kind of a fitting finale though regrettable that what should have been a repeat of the exciting moments when the trio of Japanese Pond Turtles arrived was spoiled by a brief but intense illness that took most of the fun out of that day. But I managed to get them set up in a good temporary enclosure and they are feeding well on Zoo Med pellets and dandelion leaves. They are shy but will eventually come around once they get used to their new situation like most new turtles do.

There are also regrets that I didn't get to some of the historic background in dealing with this particular subspecies of what is known as the Central American, or Ornate, or “Painted Wood Turtle” which I like to call “P-squares” after the Latin epithet of the nominal subspeces—pulcherrima pulcherrima. It would have been a rich narrative of an obsession inspired by readings of Dick Bartlett's trips to Colima and “Sinaloae Land” in “In Search of Reptiles and Amphibians” and my personal correspondences with another turtle expert who wrote about people buying baby Guerrero Woods from “ambulent vendors” on the beaches of Acapulco and taking them home. Many Japanese and German tourists among them. And a lady of Russian heritage in Southern California who had a reverse trio and ended up with two lone males that she was not sure what to do with after the female died. I actually considered trying to get one of those but passed on the opportunity out of concerns for the wellbeing of my lone female—“Sinclair” who was named after the animatronic baby dinosaur in the iconic sit com of the time—Dinosaurs. “Gotta Love Me”! The female had died of some kind of disease and one of the males—probably the one I would have ended up with—was called “The Bastard”; as he had a reputation for meanness and would attack, batter and bite other turtles!

There was also a possibility for a breeding loan of the male from the Gladys Porter Zoo in Texas and they might even have sent it to me—but I wasn't sure if I wanted to be responsible for an animal on loan from a public institution and that particular one was a confiscated illegal import placed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service; so who knows what kind of strings were attached there! Didn't want to touch that even back then before I was even fully aware of how bad government overreach truly was. But I was in the process of awakening. Kind of hard not to in the herptile hobby as we see attempts to regulate, ban, bust and confiscate things at every turn!

Will have to continue this and try to tell the story as it really ought to be told someday. Maybe in a new series on the colorful and sometimes shady world of reptile keeping. Thinking of calling it Adventures in Herpetology.

Perhaps a few weeks or a month from now. Spring is a petty busy time when your running a little turtle ranch!

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